New Year’s Resolutions To Improve Your Communication Skills

It’s that time of year again – the time to make New Year’s resolutions. But instead of just going the traditional route – pledging to join a gym to work off holiday excesses – why not opt to give your career a boost as well? Resolve to improve your communication skills.

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly! How you communicate with others—whether in person, in writing, or online—has a tremendous impact on your career. It affects every aspect of your working life, no matter how good your specialized skills are in your particular field.

For the coming year, make these communication resolutions to enhance your career:

1. Resolve to keep your phone off the table when meeting with someone. Having your phone visible tells the other person, “I am so ready to drop you and connect with someone else.”  It’s important to give people your full attention.

2. Take a presentation skills class. Work on becoming a better presenter. You need to get your point across. And if you do so effectively, not only does your audience gain information, but you look good.

3. Use “reply all” only when it is necessary for everyone on the list to see the email. In my writing classes, many participants say they really dislike receiving unnecessary emails. If you don’t want to receive unwanted emails, you need to stop overusing “reply all,” also.

4. Be smart with social media. Don’t allow social media to hurt your career. If your sites suggest you drink too much, curse a lot, or post nasty comments, people may question whether they want to work with you or hire you.

5. Learn to command the room. You want to stand out — in a good way. Dress appropriately. Walk into a room as though you belong there. Stand tall. Don’t fidget. Shake hands correctly and make small talk. When nervous, say something positive to yourself. Before she enters a meeting room, one woman I coached says to herself, “I own this meeting!”

6. Offer your opinion. If you don’t speak up in meetings, your boss, colleagues, or clients won’t know what you know. And speak early in the meeting. The longer you wait to talk, the harder it is likely to become.

7. Monitor your volume. Make sure you speak loudly enough to be heard. Many people don’t. Do not underestimate how powerful a strong voice can be – but don’t confuse powerful with shouting. You want your opinions, thoughts and ideas to register with others.

8. Apply for awards. Winning professional or community awards helps to build your credibility, and can be an important way to promote yourself. To be eligible for many awards, other people have to recommend you; for some, however, you can nominate yourself. This is not an obnoxious thing to do. You still have to earn the award.

9. Be friendly and helpful. People want to work with others they know, like and trust. It may seem obvious, but too often people neglect the little things that build relationships. Greet people you know and also those you don’t know. Smile. Say “please” and “thank you.” Help people when you can. Make connections for others, both online and in person.

10. Send thank-you notes. In the New Year, start showing appreciation for the kindness of others. If you receive a gift, visit the home of a boss or colleague, or are a guest at a meal, you must send a note. You also need to send a thank-you note after a job interview.

These 10 potential resolutions provide numerous possibilities for improving your career. There are many more communication suggestions discussed in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes (McGraw Hill, 2017).

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on communication, business writing, presentation skills, professional presence, and etiquette. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at  joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141.

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Don’t Whine About Your Job. Do Something!


My coworker hates her job. She keeps complaining to me. I have tried to talk to her about what she could do, but she is not listening. She is worried about finding a new position during the coronavirus pandemic. 
 

My husband keeps threatening to quit his job. He only comments negatively about his job and the people who work with him. I wish he would just do something.

My friend was having difficulty with her schedule, but she didn’t go to her boss to discuss alternatives. She just quit. When I had a problem, my boss adjusted my schedule. My friend’s might have been adjusted, too, if she had said something.

As these comments from participants in my seminars indicate, tackling problems that affect our work lives can be difficult. 

When some people become dissatisfied with their work, they do nothing. Perhaps they don’t know how to proceed, or maybe they don’t believe there is anything they can do to improve the situation. Usually, the only action they take is to whine about their bosses, their colleagues, or the work. 

Unfortunately, complaining doesn’t accomplish anything – except having your friends, colleagues and others stay clear of you.

Some, on the other hand, get so frustrated that they impulsively quit their jobs without having another lined up, or without even a plan for the future.


 Both reactions can affect your career negatively. However, there is an alternative that can help people evaluate their work situations. Answering the following four questions encourages people to take action and decide their next steps. 

1. Ask yourself, what is the real issue? It is easy to say, “I hate my job,” but it is important to identify why. What is the real issue that is causing you to be unhappy? Be honest and be specific. Is it the type of work you do, or just one aspect of the job? Is it the commute, the money, your boss, the people you work with, or any number of other causes? One man I coached liked most of the facets of his job, but wanted to quit because he had to make frequent presentations. Another realized that her new position involved using unfamiliar technology, which made her feel uncomfortable and unqualified.  

2. Can you solve the problem? Now that you have identified the issue, is there something that can be done? Is there a realistic solution? If so, what do you have to lose by asking for it? Make the case for your suggestion, including any benefits to your department or to the company. Remember that if you don’t speak up, chances are nothing will change. 

3. Are there advantages to this job? If you can’t solve the problem, think about what you are gaining from the position.  Don’t just quickly say, “Nothing.” Here are four possible things to consider: 

–Is the job a stepping stone?  Will you need the skills you gain from this position to qualify for a job on the next rung of the ladder? One of my early jobs involved working for a horrible boss. Yet I stayed until I had gained the experience I needed, and then I left.   

–Is there any education or training perk to which you have access? Some companies will fund part or all of your ongoing education. This can be a major benefit for many people. 

–Who are you meeting? Does the job allow you to interact with people and build your network? If so, it is possible that by having a strong network, additional job opportunities will come your way. 

–Can you learn to manage your boss? Learning to work with difficult people is an important skill that almost certainly will be beneficial to you at some point in your career.

4. Is it time to start a job search? Depending on how you answer the above questions, you may decide that it is time to start looking for a new position. (Specific suggestions for looking for work during the pandemic can be found in my blog, Looking for a job? 10 tips to help you succeed in a coronavirus world). You may even decide to change careers. Any number of alternatives may now be available to you. This doesn’t mean you just quit your job. Generally, it is best to look for a new job (or career) while you are still working at the old one. 

Information on conducting a thorough job search can be found in my book The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.   


Whether you decide to stay at your current job or to look for a new one, feel good about your choice. You are doing something: You have taken charge of your career. 

I post regularly on communication and etiquette. We can connect via LinkedInTwitterFacebook or my website:pachter.com
  
About: Barbara Pachter is an internationally-renowned business etiquette and communications speaker, coach and author of 11 business books. She helps individuals communicate more effectively and enhance their professional presence.  (bpachter@pachter.com)  

Meeting online? Don’t become “Eye-roll Ruby” or “Angry Andy”

With almost the entire business world operating under the restrictions of a coronavirus pandemic, many of us are becoming all too familiar with meetings conducted online instead of in a conference room or office.
 
But, as a woman I coached via Zoom recently observed,

“Since your colleagues aren’t in the room with you, it’s easy to forget that they are still observing you!”

Her comment highlights a key pitfall about online meetings – not paying attention to how others see you during a videoconference. 

This is especially true if you are not accustomed to presenting yourself professionally online, but now find yourself working from home and using videoconferencing apps to meet with colleagues, bosses, customers, clients, vendors, or even friends and family. It can lead to distracting behaviors that I’ve attributed to such characters as Eye-roll Ruby, Angry Andy, and so on.

These eight examples of what not to do will help you to be mindful of how you are presenting yourself when video chatting:

1.    Too-close Cody.  We don’t want to see your nose hairs! Position yourself far
enough from the camera so you don’t show a tight shot of your face – that is, from forehead to chin. In most instances, you want to show your head, shoulders, and part of your chest.
2.    Who knew, Nell? Your background for a videoconference can be a simple wall or a
section of a room in your home. Be aware of what others will be able to see behind you. The paintings or artwork on the wall, items on your tables, or books on your bookshelves will reveal aspects of your personality that your colleagues may not know. For example: Who knew Nell collected trumpets! This may be a good thing, as colleagues will discover more about her – or they may learn way too much about her!   
3.    In the dark, Daniel. Make sure your location has good lighting. You want to be seen
clearly, without any shadows hiding your appearance. Be careful if you have a window behind you. If it is bright outside, you will appear as a dark silhouette.   
4.    Interrupting Isabella. These are unusual times. People know that kids, pets, or
grandparents may be roaming around your house during business hours. Your dog coming up to you occasionally might be fine, but being interrupted constantly by your kids or pets will disrupt the meeting. To the degree that you can, manage these interruptions.
5.    Eye-roll Ruby. One woman I coached recently complained that her colleague kept
rolling her eyes whenever my client spoke. Such behavior is distracting and rude. And speaking of eyes, look at and talk to the camera, not the image on the screen. If are looking at your computer screen, you may appear to be looking down. If you look directly at the camera – usually positioned in the center of the frame above the screen – you will appear to be looking the other person in the eye.  
6.    Angry Andy. This is the person who has a very stern Standard Facial Expression,
which is what I call the expression your face assumes when you are in neutral mode. Your SFE is what people see when you are looking at them, listening to them, or just not talking. Many people have stern facial expressions and don’t even realize it. What message is your face conveying about you?  (See my suggestion below; additional information about facial expressions can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.) 
7.    Gesturing George. You don’t want to gesture too much. Waving your arms around
can become a distraction. Resist the urge to twist your hair, play with rubber bands, or click your pen. These are all distractions that make you appear nervous. Resting your head on your hand makes you look bored. And, as many people know, crossing your arms can make you appear defensive or “closed.”
8.    I’m still in PJs, Poppy. One woman I coached via Zoom looked like she was
wearing her pajamas. Working from home is more casual than working in the office, but not that casual! Match your clothing choice to the purpose of the meeting. If you are seeing your CEO, dress more professionally. If you are meeting with your team, you may want to dress more casually. But remember, it’s still business. “Casual” does not mean sloppy. And yes, you do need to wear the entire outfit, not just the top that shows above the table. You never know when something might happen that requires you to stand up suddenly. Need I say more?

Suggestion: A practice session can help you to become aware of the image you are conveying to others. Situate yourself in the same location you will use for online meetings, and then connect with a friend to analyze how you appear on camera – and make any adjustments necessary.  

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business etiquette, presentation skills, career advancement, professional presence, and business writing. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at Joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141. (www.pachter.com) 

6 Tips To Enhance Your Presentation Skills…And Build Your Confidence

“I just spoke to 200 people; I can do anything!”

This comment was from a woman I had coached on presentation skills. She had been nervous about speaking during a fund-raising luncheon for her favorite charity, but felt “on top of the world” after giving the presentation.
                                             
She was experiencing one of the positive consequences of giving an effective speech – her confidence level increased considerably, and she felt good about herself.

This woman was an accomplished professional and needed only a few suggestions to fine-tune her skills. But anyone can benefit from some of the tips that I gave her. Why not try them out before your next presentation? You may be surprised at how good you feel about yourself as a result.   

1. Practice out loud. You want to hear how your presentation sounds. Saying it in your head isn’t good enough. Is it structured logically? Are you using transitions between points? Are the stories complete? Does the presentation make sense? Saying it aloud, and hearing the speech as your audience will hear it, helps to clarify any areas that need work.

2. Mingle before the presentation. When you can, go up to people, shake hands, introduce yourself, and welcome individuals to the presentation. This rapport-building helps people connect with you, and allows you to feel more comfortable with them once you are in front of the group.

3. Ask yourself: Does the audience know I am nervous? If you are not verbally or nonverbally conveying your nervousness to the audience, the people you are addressing will not know. And if the audience doesn’t know you’re nervous, why waste your energy being nervous? Interesting concept… and it has helped a lot of people overcome their nervousness.

4. Look at people. When you make eye contact with members of your audience, you appear confident and in control of the presentation and your audience. Presenters get nervous and tend to avoid looking at the people they are addressing. Make sure you look at everyone. People have a tendency to look only at the people who smile at them (and we do love these people!), but you don’t want to miss connecting with anyone. 
                                       
5. Manage the questions. In the beginning of your talk, let people know when you will be taking questions. You can often direct people to ask questions on a specific topic by saying, “What questions do you have about X?” Repeat each question before you answer it. This gives you a few seconds to compose your thoughts before you speak. You can also rephrase the question to eliminate any negativity in it. 

6. Take the applause. I am sure you have seen speakers who have almost run off the stage at the conclusion of a presentation, or they may say something like, “Whew, glad that is over!” Do not do this. You should acknowledge the applause, then walk off the stage or go back to your seat with your head held high.

Additional suggestions on presentation skills can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on presentation skills and communication. For more information contact Joyce Hoff at joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141.